By Rob Watson
“Making headway, one step at a time”. This was the last communication from Joe Bell on his epic quest to walk across the United States and do everything within his power to end bullying, intolerance and suicide. His journey was not the result of an idealistic publicity stunt. It was a mission. A truck whose driver allegedly had fallen asleep at the wheel struck Joe down yesterday killing him as he fought in valor as a dad, and a hero.
Our country’s values had fallen asleep at its own wheel long before this accident. Jadin Bell, Joe’s 15 year old son, tragically took his own life earlier this year. Jadin hung himself after a barrage of bullying that even continued in the local paper while he hung on for days in a coma. One commenter, for example calling himself “PuzzleFighter” wrote in the thread commemorating Jadin, “BTW, some guy who hugs me for no reason deserves a punch in the face.”
Others gave insight to the environment the Bells faced. “ CMar74” addressed this by stating about La Grande, “the culture of intolerance in that town is horrific and am thankful we removed our family from it.
The loss of Jadin was a loss to the world. According to a family friend, he elevated those around him with a “couple quick words and everybody would just forget about their problems and smile. He just had a gift.” That loss could not have been felt more deeply than in the heart of his dad, Joe Bell.
As a dad, I relate to the soul that I know was in Joe. I know the feeling of looking at my sons and experiencing a love beyond that which I could ever dream possible. It is a love in which you want for, you would die for, that person to get every wish, every hope, every accomplishment they imagined. It is a love which puts the other person first unequivocally and calls for any sacrifice to keep them safe, healthy and well.
On the day Jadin died, I know as I breathe, part of Joe’s soul had to have been decimated. Mine would have been. According to his Facebook page, Joe “figured he had two choices, lay down and give up or stand up and walk.” For me, as it was with Joe, in that situation there are only two choices, lay down and die or fight to the death against the thing that killed your kid.
So Joe walked, and he walked hard. He traveled from Oregon to Colorado speaking to groups who would listen all along the way, including a youth group the evening of his death. “This is what I am out here for,” he said in a self made video a few days before. “I am out here to make Change.”
Moments before Joe was killed, he looked at a sign that said “Wild Horse 7”. Life, the ultimate wild horse, was about to knock him down, and end the pain and mourning that he still must have been carrying in his gut.
This is not the end of Joe and Jadin Bell however. As the horrible news of Joe’s death has spread, a common theme has left the lips of many : “We will continue the walk.”
We will walk. We will fight. We will love with a force that will eradicate fear, homophobia and the individualized terror known as “bullying”. We should have done it earlier so Jadin would not have had to die, and Joe would not have had to walk.
We can do it now, however. It is not too late. I wish we could have done it for Jadin, but as Joe knew, there are more “Jadins” out there, and we can do it for them.
And now, we can also do it for Joe.
To Joe, from me, and many dads out here: You died in the line of duty of being a dad. Rest in peace, man, we will not let you go in vain.